Building Bloch

Legendary ballet shoe maker Bloch is stepping from the stage to the street. After more than 75 years as an industry leader, the Sydney, Australia-based company introduced its first nonperformance collection for women and girls — a move inspired by the ballet shoe’s rise to must-have status.

To help it make the leap into the fashion world, Bloch tapped 27-year-old Aussie designer Jozette Hazzouri. Hazzouri debuted the Bloch Ladies collection this past spring. Now she is turning her attention to the kids’ market. Baby Bloch for infants and Bloch Girls for tweens will premiere for spring ’09. Hazzouri said she expects the children’s shoes to sell well because ballet classes tend to be a rite of passage for many young girls.

In addition to classic silhouettes in a variety of colors and materials, the kids’ offering includes lace-up jazz looks and dress styles detailed with crisscrossed straps reminiscent of pointe shoes. Also featured are ballet-inspired touches such as bows, ribbons, satin accents and, of course, plenty of pink.

Beyond styling, Bloch carries its ballet heritage through in its technical approach to the shoes’ construction, according to Hazzouri. “Our fashion shoes are handmade and constructed using the same traditional methods as our pointe shoes,” she said.

Slated to hit stores next month, the children’s collection will be carried by a mix of independents, including Bonne Nuit and Lester’s in New York, Madison & Friends in Chicago, and Kitson and Fred Segal in Los Angeles. Retail prices will range from $30 to $60 for the baby line and $90 to $130 for the girls’ line.

Here, Hazzouri chats about collaborating with Bloch and bringing ballet shoes out of the dance studio.

1. What inspired Bloch to move into the fashion footwear market?

JH: It was more that the fashion world came to them. People were asking them to make ballet flats they could wear in the streets. After a little experimentation, Bloch realized there was a real demand for their blend of technical [expertise] and fashion, so they started to take the fashion line seriously.

2. How did your partnership with the company come about?

JH: I was on this amazing trip around Europe and met some of the people who worked for Bloch. At the time, I was still designing my own label, which was a very feminine clothing line incorporating seductive fabrics and silks. For the people at Bloch, dance is their life, and the femininity, passion and fluidity invoked in their product through the dancers really inspired me. When they suggested I work for them as a designer, I was ready for a change and excited about entering a new field of design. They had an idea that made a lot of sense, and I wanted to be a part of that.

3. How have you added elements of technical ballet shoes into the fashion collection?

JH: We really can’t help but infuse our fashion product with our technical background. Most of our fashion shoes are handmade and constructed using the same traditional methods as our pointe shoes, in that they’re made inside out, stitched and then turned. I am also constantly inspired by the link to dance in materials selection and in design details.

4. Do you tap real dancers for feedback on the shoes?

JH: Initially, we did because they convinced us we could make a super-comfortable version of a street ballet shoe. Now, for the fashion line, I work with the same technical team that spends the rest of their time dealing with professional dancers. So I guess it infuses the process without too much planning.

5. Does Bloch’s ballet heritage give it an advantage?

JH: Definitely. We have the ballet DNA. Our shoes have the look and feel of an authentic ballet shoe [construction], whereas others in the category really look and feel like a street shoe.

6. Besides the dance world, where do you find design inspiration?

JH: Everything and every day is an inspiration. I usually get some of my best ideas when I’m traveling. I travel constantly and often find myself incorporating textures, colors or forms into a collection that is influenced by different cultures and national design trends.

7. Ballerina styles are one of the hottest items in kids’ footwear today. Why is this style is so popular and so suitable for young girls?

JH: Young girls like them because they are so huge in the adult market — they see their older friends and sisters wearing them. Ballerina styles are also comfortable and easy to wear, which is essential for kids. And from a parent’s point of view, they have a great shape for the healthy development of a child’s foot.

8. In this tough economy, do you think Bloch’s higher price points will be a hurdle?

JH: We provide a fantastic value proposition throughout our entire range. I am happy we can offer a broad price range so our customers have a choice of price points. Obviously, lower prices do more volume, but we’re [confident] that the unique fusion of fashion and function we offer will be sought out.

9. How important are young celebrities (or children of celebrities) in getting a new collection noticed?

JH: It’s always going to be a boost if you see, say, Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes, wearing your shoes. Kids are pretty influenced by what they see on TV and what other celebrities wear.

10. What are your plans for expanding the line?

JH: I will be adding a toddler offering. The baby collection has been such a great success, so the toddler range is a natural progression to bridge the gap between the baby and girls’ product.


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